Originally created 01/17/04

Child protection near



There may be plenty of contentious, partisan issues in this election year as Georgia's General Assembly works its will. But one of them apparently won't be child protection.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor has regarded child endangerment as his signature legislation for three years, but even though protecting children is a no-brainer, he hasn't been able to get it passed. But now he has picked up a powerful ally - GOP Gov. Sonny Perdue.

In a remarkable display of bipartisanship, the governor and the man who would be governor - Taylor is a good bet to challenge Perdue in two years - appeared together on the first day of the legislature to declare their mutual support for child protection.

With a host of other Georgia political and law-enforcement heavyweights surrounding them, both leaders said it's not important who gets credit for the legislation. What's important is that it pass.

Just how important is illustrated by the fact that Georgia is the only state in the nation that doesn't have a child endangerment law. As Richmond County District Attorney Danny Craig has explained it, child endangerment strengthens law-enforcement's ability to move against negligent or reckless parents before serious damage is done to a child.

For instance, five children - the oldest being a 6-year-old boy - were left alone in their Augusta home earlier this week while their mother went to get herself tattooed.

Authorities found the dirty-diapered kids to be living in squalid, filthy and unhealthy conditions - one of them even suffering from pneumonia. They received prompt medical care before being moved into foster homes.

Under current Georgia law, the tattooed mother could be charged with child cruelty - a very high bar for prosecutors to clear to win conviction. Under a child endangerment law, it need only be proved that parental negligence exposed the kids to danger and disease - a still-serious but lower threshold.

In the past, fringe special interests have shot down child protection legislation by attaching unacceptable amendments. But with both Perdue and Taylor working together to muscle the fringes aside, this legislation might pass soon enough to be state law before the session adjourns in March.

Lawmakers have no excuses. Get this done.